Good Doctor: How to explain autism (Episode 4 Review)

by: Raine

Less Si-on and more politics is not a good direction for this show. While it’s all good and well to see the good guys fight the bad guys, it sucks when we have to watch all the tedium that comes with political battles. However, I will admit that one aspect of the politics is realistic. It was something I had hoped would be touched upon: dealing with parents. It’s an issue that would come up if a person with autism held a position of authority. However, the show handles it badly. It becomes another incident use solely to create tension rather than a situation to educate and explain

With all of the parents in the pediatrics ward worrying about Si-on, I thought it’d be a good time to focus on suggesting what could be done by the show and the characters to deal with these situations. Plus, as always, a little bit more on Si-on and his disability and his humanity.

I’m asking medical professionals and therapists of any kind to chime in and let me know what you’ve seen and done! I wanna hear about it! From what I can see, the medical stuff on this show is…um, incorrect. Heh.

Dealing with parents is one of the most difficult aspects of being a doctor…or a teacher, or a waitress, or a clerk, or a fellow parent. Parents get crazy about their children and often forgo all sense of reason in a blind panic to protect them and help (or force) their them to succeed. I have work harder to understand and please parents than I do their children as a teacher of both typical and disabled students.

As a private cello teacher, I spend a long time during the first lesson I have with a student getting to know parents and their children (or sometimes just the adult student). But I teach these students for a prolonged amount of time, as in years. Doctors in a pediatrics ward have to learn to read parents/guardians and children in a very short amount of time, figure out how to deal with them and then act accordingly. These are all a set of fine-tuned social skills. A commenter on my blog mentioned that it’s not even the attending physician who will make these bonds with the patient, but the fellows, i.e. Si-on. My personal surgical experience is different. I knew (or my mother knew) my surgeons well, but I went through private practitioners first whereas these medical practitioners are based in a hospital.

In any case, meeting patients and dealing with them and everyone around them is most decidedly a social skill that a doctor needs to have. Si-on does not. Can he acquire the skills? Probably, to some extent. He can be taught to respond to certain questions and not to respond to others. He can be taught what to do in certain situations, but in order to do that, he really needs a person to guide him, not just incidentally watch over him. Would he be able to eventually function without a guardian? I highly doubt it, but that doesn’t lessen his worth as a doctor.

With a guardian or aide or helper or P.A. assigned to him, Si-on has a lot to give and will also have a lot to learn. I’m going to attack the parental issue from this standpoint. Why? Because as he stands right now, alone, without guidance, I agree with the parents.

In this episode, a group of mothers start to gossip maliciously against Si-on and want their children taken off his rotation. One mother tries to defend him, one whose son was saved by Si-on, but she is silenced as the weak minority. When a group of children sneak off to eat unsanctioned food and play in a storage room, Si-on catches them and asks to play with them. (It may seem childish, but I LOVE playing with kids, too. And Si-on is way more fascinated by children’s games than I am.) They agree on the condition that he does something for them, which is the same situation that got his hyung killed when they were kids. The flood of horrible memories makes him reel and he knocks into a shelf. The contents fall onto the children, hurting them. Now the mothers refuse to let him treat their children.

Do I blame them? No. Are they a little too harsh? It’s dramaland…and yet it’s not. Parents are fierce in protection of their kids. If Si-on had had an aide, that person would’ve instructed and helped him in doing the correct things: ushering the kids back to their rooms and confiscating the food. The aide would’ve explained why he had to do it and what he would have to do in a similar situation that cropped up in the future. And with Si-on’s intelligence, he would remember the words and apply the instructions even if he didn’t quite understand why. But if you explain, “This is how it works in the hospital and society and to be a part of it, you have to follow these rules,” then Si-on will willingly comply. He WANTS to get along with people and he WANTS to do well at his job. His job just has to be explained in a way that he will understand.

This is my issue with Woo-seok and his mission to “heal one person (Si-on)”. If he wants to heal Si-on, he needs to do it properly and have a clear goal of the path to “healing”. I think the writer is treating Si-on’s healing as something literal: he wants to cure the autism. But what I want for Si-on is for his loneliness to heal. He is so lonely. He is the loneliest character I’ve seen in a long time. He is constantly surrounded by people and always feels utterly alone. It’s hard for people to understand him and so they avoid him, shun him, pick on him, but they don’t befriend him. Woo-seok needs to tell people how to do these things. Not very many people are like Nurse Jo with the ability to see through the awkward behavior and see a kind heart behind it.

And that’s what the parents need to learn to see. If Si-on had an aide, it would be easy to explain, “This is a brilliant doctor who has trouble communicating with people. I (the aide) am here to help him communicate.” Of course, there are always a few people who wouldn’t go for it, but just the tiniest bit of explanation and reassurance goes a long way. Then again, this is a very unusual situation. He has a pretty severe disability to be hired into a position laden with so much responsibility without any aid.

That is my trouble with the show. I can’t blame the naysayers: the board, the parents, even the other doctors. Si-on does make very big, very understandable mistakes. I saw them coming a mile away and I’m sure any professional (or para) who works with people with autism saw them, too. Yes, they treat him badly and that’s lack of understanding, but in the end, he still makes these mistakes and they CAN hurt people. They did hurt people.

I have no idea how the show will solve this dilemma. I have no idea how to explain to parents that Si-on is a good doctor to have on rotation (without an aide) because he’s NOT. He may see the medical issues more clearly than anyone and think up the most creative solutions, but dealing with the parents is half the battle; a battle he does not have the capability to win without help. And he doesn’t have help.

But if I could sit the doctors and parents down, despite whether or not they were open to learning about Si-on, I’d tell them: This is a warm, human being who really cares. He just doesn’t know how to show it. I’d explain that it’s hard for him to make eye contact with people because he feels really uncomfortable about it. I’d explain that he talks strangely because normal expression is difficult for him. He may sound like he is answering things by rote, but that’s because that is the most sensical way to answer for him. The autism makes him extremely literal so abstract questions and explanations are lost on him.

There is one point when Yoon-seo tries to explain that Si-on needs to learn teamwork, but doesn’t explain what that entails. To a typical person, someone without autism, we can take that abstract thought and inference the proper behavior. Not Si-on. He will conjure up a dictionary definition of the word and leave it at that. She needs to tell him to ASK before he makes any decisions. She needs to tell him WHO to ask. I know this all seems like a lot of work, but he is a part of their team and it really isn’t that much extra effort. It’s effort one would expend when explaining a situation to a child, so why not a fellow human who needs the time? And if you want to be practical about it, his mind functions differently than our minds. He is literally an out-of-the-box thinker where social parameters don’t exist and he is able to come up with brilliant medical solutions.

There was a lot in this episode I didn’t cover: politics; Yoon-seo’s complete misunderstanding of Si-on and yelling at him; one badly written parent yelling at Si-on; Do-han and his annoying fiancee; Yoon-seo taking on a surgery that she shouldn’t have to say F-you to the jerky head of pediatrics; lots of stuffs. I would cover it if it wasn’t so annoying. The only part of this drama I’m currently invested in is the autism. The surgeries were more interesting this time around, but the story is just too choppy to invest in.

Okay, I’m calling all people who have worked with people with autism, who have experience with people with autism. What do you think?


Episode 1: First Impressions

Episode 2: the Autism Perspective

Episode 3: How to create a good doctor

Episode 4: How to explain autism

5 responses to “Good Doctor: How to explain autism (Episode 4 Review)”

  1. Hi Raine, thanks for your insights on the latest episode. You said the medical stuff don’t look right to you. I am not in the profession but we got a surgeon on Joo Won thread in soompi and she says it’s been very realistic so far. I don’t mean the miraculous saves or the ‘concurrent’ surgeries but probably most of the other details.

    The writer seems to have some ‘huge’ story for Do Han. I certainly hope it’s big enough to explain why this man behaves the way he does. I get some of his attitude but not all.

    At the moment, no one wants to work with Si On except Nurse Jo, that’s why they don’t even bother to figure a way to use his abilities and overcame his shortfalls. Dr Choi ‘s method seems to be throw Si On ‘in the deep end to learn how to swim’ I can’t make out YS either. I know she wants SO to succeed. Although I can excuse her shouting at SO as being under stress or at wits end, she doesn’t show much understanding of his autism when things are more calm either.

  2. I agree with you. I don’t get why Dohan and Yoon-seo don’t bang their heads together and say “Ok, we’ve tried to talk to him. It’s obviously not getting through. We obviously need to figure out a different way of communicating with him. Let’s talk to Dr. Choi and let’s consult the authorities on autism…” …. or something of the sort, you get my thrift.

    Because even if you have no clue about autism (though they should, as doctors), they should have realised by now that the way they have been talking to Shi-on isn’t working and that they need to approach the situation / him differently.

    I’m only invested in Shi-on’s character, nothing else from this drama at the moment.

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